Showing Our Girls: Yes We Can!

As I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton accept the nomination for President of the United States last night, I had flashbacks to scenes from my childhood. You know how memories, especially those from the long ago past, come at you in splintered pieces? Almost like still photos or film clips.

Miss America and Girls in the 1960s

I remember an annual highlight for me and my sisters was watching the Miss America pageant. I have an image of women parading across a stage in bathing suits. We scrutinized their looks: their hair, their eyes, their teeth, their clothing. And each of us would zero in on one young woman we wanted to win. Throughout the contest, for that one night, we wanted to be that woman and all that we had deemed so likeable about how she looked.

I remember watching the nightly news with my father. We were fans of Huntley and Brinkley (both men). I especially liked Chet Huntley. To me, he seemed so calm and serious, his dark suit and tie and his low measured voice made me feel so secure.

I remember the volatility of the Civil Rights Movement and of the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention that took place in Chicago, my own backyard. The faces (all of them male) that flit across my memory: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Daley, Richard Nixon.

I remember elementary school, sitting quietly at my desk all day, diligently following teacher’s instructions, understanding that what was expected of me was good grades and good behavior. It paid off with Ivy League college admissions.

Stretching Our Horizons in the 1970s

In the mid-1970s, I was a young woman attending Yale University, a college that had been all-male just 6 years before I arrived. But I remember feeling that more was being expected of me than ever before. My teachers, men and women, pushed me to stretch my thinking beyond just “the right answer.” And though it was more of a backdrop than something I thought about every day, I was aware that during my junior year, Yale was being led by a woman, Hanna Gray.

I have a picture of Hillary Clinton on my phone. She looks barely in her 20s. . She is standing with Bill across the street from the dormitory I lived in for three years. The picture must have been taken just a few years before I arrived on campus. She is smiling, her chin jutting forward just a little, a look of self-confidence and of complete comfort in her own skin. She looks like she cannot wait to make her mark on the world.

We’ve Come A Long Way Baby!

Last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for President of the United States. I watched her in her white suit, her eyes shining, her not-so-low voice clear and strong. The images of influencers from my childhood flashed through my mind. I thought at that moment: The memories of the little girls growing up today will include Hillary. Her beauty and her power to make them feel secure. This moment will be seared on their minds, a snapshot that informs their sense of possibility, that drives their self-expectation, and impacts the choices they make.

Today, as I go about my work, Miss America, Chet Huntley, Hannah Gray, and Hillary Clinton are all perched on my shoulder, pushing the continued expansion of my own sense of possibility and self-expectation. We’ve come a long way baby. Thank you Hillary Rodham Clinton for shaping women across the generations, inspiring us to live fully in the knowledge that, “Yes we can!”

Share your stories of formative memories that shaped you.

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